The Kentucky Derby Is Officially Off The Bucket List - The Dude Ranch Still Remains

We were in Louisville, Kentucky for the 139th Kentucky Derby. Horses and Hats, and of course you can’t go anywhere without a Chicago Sports Connection. Flashback: My Sports Guy had some business in the small town of Minier, Illinois about 3 hours from Chicago.

“Why don’t you come with me? It’s just a couple of days.” And then, he proceeded to paint a Norman Rockwell travel scene of a quaint, charming town with antique shops and Midwest history – the perfect getaway.

He made all of this up.

I googled “Minier, IL, and this is what it said: “There are no points of interest in Minier, IL. This is not for tourism." They did have a bowling alley – but how many games could I bowl? I am not exactly a “bowler”.

So, the back-up plan went into effect and we stayed in Bloomington-Normal home of State Farm's headquarters and labeled the “Fast Food Capital of the World," or something like that(about 40 minutes from Minier). Not exactly a weekend in Paris, but it was OK.

How did we end up going to the Derby, one might wonder…

Friday morning – getting ready to drive home. TV is on and the Kentucky Derby is the topic.

“Remember, we are going to Gloria's party,” I remind him.

My good friend and renowned Chicago Social Diva, Gloria the Hat throws a Derby party every year.

But, then, in a light bulb moment, he chimes in, “Why don’t we just drive down to the real deal from here?”

No disrespect to Minier, but Churchill Downs on Derby Day is a destination to get excited about.

“Now you’re talking,” I’m all in. And, then it hits me…Damn. “What am I going to wear?” I don’t have a hat.”

Amazingly, this does not phase him.

So a mini stop at a department store was mandatory and I managed to find a hat and a less than acceptable outfit–but it was still better than making something out of the hotel drapes.

We were off. Of course, our 4-1/2 hour drive turned into 8 hours due to backroad and scenic route detours to places like Farmer’s City.

So now, at some point during the drive, My Guy casually mentions the fact that we should probably start looking for a hotel.

“Sure honey, no problem,” I reply like a person without a brain. Because as I am googling and searching on the IPad, it hits me like a load of bricks.

Apparently, there is a big demand for rooms in Louisville on Derby Day…seeing that there are a zillion people travelling from all over to go to this event and, most likely have made reservations a lot sooner than the day before. Duh.

“There’s a Hampton Inn about 20 miles away that has a couple of rooms for only $699 a night. And, oh wait, here’s a Motel 6 for only $499 a night. What do you think?”

He said, “You’re joking.”
I said, “I’m not.”

The good news is that when you walk into a hotel lobby at 11PM, no matter what they were charging – if it’s not rented by that time – you can bet it’s not going to get booked. So, we were holding the negotiating cards.

After telling them the ridiculously low price (considering) that we were willing to pay – we struck a deal. A two night stay in downtown Louisville, in the middle of all of the action. Nice hotel with all of the amenities. High fives.

Derby Day. Up early. Good news: Scalper tickets were purchased for $1.00 under face value. Bad News: It’s pouring rain.

We are at historic Churchill Downs, and I am loving it.

Amazing hats, seersucker suits, mint juleps, Southern charm, and tradition. Of course, we are also wearing plastic ponchos, in addition to a plastic bag over my hat (no umbrellas allowed).

Now, we are in the Paddock – magnificent horses parading and we are talking to a couple that had driven from Colorado with their two daughters and grandson. The dad, looking ruggedly appropriate in his cowboy hat mentions that the Derby was on their Bucket List.

“Ours too,” we said. “In fact, we were just talking about our Bucket List on the long drive here.”

Backtrack: Driving through the flatlands of three states, I must have heard 50 times from My Horse-Loving Guy:
“I’d love a farm like that. I wish we could live on a horse ranch. I want to go to a dude ranch and do a cattle run before I die.” Bucket list talk.

In relating this to our new Derby friends, they mention that they live on a horse ranch – with horses and cattle. A small one, though, for those parts, they say – only 18,000 acres.

My Horse Guy was stuttering and I looked around for a cup to collect his drool. Needless to say, I had to refocus his attention to the “horse experience” we were having in the present moment. "You can be a ranch hand in your next life," I promised.

So, on to the very long and slow moving betting line for the Kentucky Derby – Race #11.

This is where the Chicago Sports Connection comes in: While talking with two guys in line, My Guy learns that they are both from Chicago. Now, several seconds into the conversation, the talk turns to Chicago Sports. They were Cubs fans living on the South Side. Tough. So Cubs talk, Bulls talk, Hawks talk and Bears talk. Then, somehow they are getting in-depth…such as, that Bear’s game against Carolina…”Yeah, I was there, too”…blah blah – to the point were the one guy recalling the plays of the game whips out his cellphone and eagerly scrolls down until he finds the pictures that he took at that game (for proof?).

It gets better. Now, feeling the need to prove to the others that he is truly a Die-Hard Chicago Sports Fan, My Guy proudly whips out his Chase credit card with the Bear’s logo. Then the other two flash their Bears Logo credit card, and then the Cubs logo credit cards come out.

I could not make this up. This is Male sports bonding in it’s truest form. They were like card carrying Siamese Triplets with a secret handshake to boot.

Women would not do this.

The Race itself: “My Old Kentucky Home” is sung. More mint julep toasts, and the greatest two minutes in sports was over. Quite a thrill.

Later, watching the Bulls claim a victory in a crowded Louisville sports bar, still wearing my wide brimmed pink flowered rain soaked hat, I am thinking.

“Honey, should I wear this hat when the Bulls play the Heat in Round 2 – you know for good luck, since they won tonight”? I am giving this serious thought.

He gives me the long look and says. “Wear Red.”

I am relieved. I was willing to take one for the team, but that would have looked really silly in Chicago. Go Bulls.

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